As Shadow Minister for Public Health, Sharon responded to a debate on HIV Treatment and raised concerns with the ramifications of the Health and Social Care Act on local HIV services, along with concerns over public health budget cuts and issues with PrEP.
You can read the speech here: Sharon Hodgson MP HIV Treatment Westminster Hall Debate 28.02.17
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Main. I thank the hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) for his excellent chairmanship of the all-party parliamentary group on HIV and AIDS, for securing this important debate and for his comprehensive opening speech. It was a tour de force.
I also thank the other hon. Members who have contributed to the debate. I thank the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day), my right hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr Bradshaw) and my hon. Friends the Members for Hove (Peter Kyle) and for Bristol West (Thangam Debbonaire) for their excellent and knowledgeable speeches and interventions. They will all have given the Minister much to think about.
We have come a long way since the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, but that does not mean that we should be complacent in our approach to the disease now. Across the UK, an estimated 101,200 people were living with HIV by the end of 2015; 87% of them had a diagnosis, and 96% of those diagnosed were accessing treatment. Although they are a minority of people in the wider population, they are a significant minority that we cannot let down when it comes to their care and treatment.
The number of people receiving HIV care in 2015 in England was just over 81,000. That is a 73% increase in the number of people accessing HIV care since 2006. In part, that is welcome, as it means that more people are accessing care that can improve their lives, but it also provides us with reasons to ensure the future quality of care provided, and that is the crux of why we are here today to debate this issue.
As the APPG highlighted, it is understood that since the passing and implementation of the Health and Social Care Act 2012, there have been growing complications with the commissioning and provision of HIV services across the healthcare system. In the rest of my contribution, I will touch on the Health and Social Care Act’s impact on HIV services, but I will also expand into other areas, such as the cuts to public health budgets and the worrying trend of decommissioning of HIV services, and finally I will touch on issues regarding PrEP.
Since the passing of the Health and Social Care Act, there has been a significant fragmentation of our NHS and wider health services. During the passage of the Act, Opposition Members felt that it was an unnecessary top-down reorganisation. The case of HIV services proves exactly how that fragmentation is causing consequences for the future of vital services. The creation of CCGs and the devolution of public health to local authorities have fragmented HIV services across various bodies, with no coherent commissioning and oversight. Currently, services are failing to maintain the standard that patients expect. That is down to commissioning responsibility not being clearly defined under the Health and Social Care Act. Although the coalition Government argued that the Act would ensure the streamlining of services, the opposite has clearly been the case for HIV services.
I therefore want to push the Minister on what she is doing to look into the APPG’s recommendations, especially about joint commissioning for support services by NHS England and CCGs, along with co-commissioning of HIV and sexual health services by local authorities and NHS England. Another issue that the Minister must look at—I raise this repeatedly with her—is public health funding. The cuts to services further exacerbate the problems that HIV services face because of commissioning responsibilities being unclear, which is pushing services to walk away from their responsibilities.
I know that the Minister will reference the funding going into regular HIV testing and the promotion of safe sex, along with the HIV innovation fund, but the impact on funding cannot be ignored. Last week, the National AIDS Trust published a report showing that in England, there has been a 28% decrease in the expenditure between 2015-16 and 2016-17. That is on top of the cuts to HIV support services, or decommissioning of said services, in Lambeth, Southwark, Oxfordshire, Portsmouth and Bexley. Although public health budgets are only one part of the funding streams for HIV support, treatment and care, they are nevertheless an important part of the pathway, as cuts to sexual health services more broadly are detrimental to HIV care. The £200 million in-year cut and 3.9% cut year on year will only have a negative impact on the future of all sexual health services, including those for HIV. The Minister must seriously address that false economy, or risk seeing a public health crisis that could easily have been avoided.
I thank my hon. Friend for the excellent speech that she is making. I want to add my support for what she has just said, and perhaps go a bit further. Does she agree that the Minister needs to address the fact that the failure to address preventive services will only store up costs and problems further down the line, and that when there are cuts to public health grants, those services need to be ring-fenced or protected in some other way so that we are not storing up problems for the future?
I thank my hon. Friend for that helpful intervention. I agree with her absolutely. The whole point of preventive services—HIV and sexual health services are preventive—is to save money, and lives, further down the line. We regularly debate preventive measures for other health issues with the Minister in this Chamber.
There is still a question mark over the future of HIV services, not only because of the cuts that we are seeing now, but because the future of public health budgets after 2018 is not guaranteed. There are also issues with the devolution to local authorities of business rates, which will be used to fund public health spending. The Government have still not published details of how they aim to ensure that public health will continue to be prioritised when that comes into effect. I hope that the Minister will be able to offer clarity today
PrEP is a highly effective way of protecting someone who does not have HIV from contracting it. As the UK PROUD study showed, it was 86% effective in preventing HIV transmission and, if taken correctly, it has closer to a 100% success rate. That is why it is important that this drug treatment is supported as much as possible. While the announcement on the feasibility study is welcome, questions remain that the Minister must answer. Nearly four months since the trial was announced, we are still none the wiser as to when it will begin, other than that it will begin early in the 2017-18 financial year. I welcome that in her letter to the APPG yesterday the Minister said that the trial would begin in the summer, but I hope she will offer further clarity on when we will know more. There remains an issue with the drug Truvada, which is used in PrEP. For the trial to reach the 10,000 people that it plans to, a generic version of Truvada will need to be used. I am interested to know what conversations the Minister has had with Gilead, and how co-operative it has been to ensure the success of the trial.
Finally, I want to ask the Minister about the concerns that many PROUD participants will run out of their supply of PrEP this week, and that between 350 and 4,000 individuals at the highest risk of HIV will run out of supplies. That is a matter of urgency, and the Minister must address it as a matter of priority. We cannot allow the people who take this drug treatment to be put at risk. Therefore, I hope the Minister will go away today and look at the matter immediately.
These issues are highly important to many people who live with HIV or within those communities where infection rates are more common than in others, as we heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Hove and for Bristol West. I was shocked and surprised to hear that there is four times the normal rate of those people in the community of my hon. Friend the Member for Hove. I am well aware why he is here today to speak for his constituents.
The Government’s mismanaged approach to the NHS’s structures and to wider health services is seeing services fall through the gaps and people’s lives affected, which is exacerbated by short-sighted cuts. It is important that we recognise the work that has already gone into addressing HIV in our society, but accept that we still have a long way to go. We cannot squander these opportunities, as we could see yet another public health crisis due to complacency and failure to step up and address this issue. I hope the Minister has listened carefully to all the contributions to the debate and the seriousness of it, and will go away and do the right thing by the tens of thousands of people living with HIV or at those risk of contracting it, and support them. They should not be let down.